Point Reyes Lighthouse gets $5 million overhaul

Teresa Mathew
The Fresnel lens inside the Point Reyes Lighthouse—whose glass prisms bend and refract light to create a powerful beam—will be restored during the landmark's first-ever major renovation, which started this week.  

The National Park Service on Monday began a $5 million restoration of the Point Reyes Lighthouse, the first extensive refurbishment in the landmark’s 148-year history. Work is expected to be completed next spring, but with access to the visitor center and observation deck opening again in  early October. 

Accessibility, said park spokesman John Dell’Osso, “is a big part of the project.” The pathway from the parking lot to the observation deck perched above the lighthouse will be expanded and paved in concrete, and three additional steps will be added to the 308-step descent in order to flatten out the deck and better facilitate wheelchairs. 

Accessibility upgrades inside the visitor center include adding tactile models of birds and the lighthouse, new signage in braille and digital flipbooks of the area’s flora and fauna with audio captioning.  

The lighthouse itself will see the restoration of the Fresnel lens, whose 1,032 individual glass prisms bend and refract light to create a powerful beam. (Although the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1975, rangers give demonstrations by drawing a shade over part of the outer windows so that ships at sea don’t glimpse the beam and get thrown off.)

The lens will be disassembled and hauled off site for repairs before being reassembled and returned. Lampist Jim Woodward, who has undertaken minor repairs on the lens before, is scheduled to perform the overhaul. 

Park ranger Doug Hee, who has worked at the lighthouse for 15 years, is looking forward to seeing the lens in action once more. “When I started, there were issues with the operation of the light,” he said. “We were operating it for a limited time, [but] we were aware of some issues and didn’t want to exacerbate them. [After the restoration], the idea would be to operate it on a nearly daily basis for demonstrations.” 

The restoration will also pay close attention to the weathered structure to which visitors flock from around the world. The exterior, which has suffered water and rust damage over the years, will receive new paint and scaffolding to help it survive myriad forms of marine wear and tear.

The work is being funded by the Federal Lands Recreation and Enhancement Act, which gives money to deferred maintenance projects, and will be overseen by the Sonoma-based construction company Abide International. 

The park is hoping that the observation deck and visitor center will be operational in October, when prime whale-watching season begins. But according to contractor Karl Lindstrom of Abide, work on the lighthouse itself won’t be finished before next spring, and the landmark will likely remain inaccessible until April. 

“It will be a short-term inconvenience for visitors,” Mr. Dell’Osso said. “We’re just going to have to apologize—it’s all we can do.” During the closure of the visitor center, the Kenneth C. Patrick visitor center at Drakes Beach will be open Friday through Sunday.

The park service has been trying to get word about the closure out in various ways: signage at all visitor centers, alerts on social media and blog posts online. Once construction begins, road signs will be posted from Inverness all the way to the lighthouse. Still, some may be in for a surprise. On Friday, two visitors at the lighthouse were surprised to hear that the site was going to be closed the following week. “It’s a good thing we came when we did,” they said. 


To keep up with the project’s progression through time lapse photography, visit the park’s website, nps.gov/pore.